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Extending the Season with Mini Hoop Tunnels

 Garden plot in winter 

I swung by my plot at the community garden this morning, and hung over the fence to gaze at it for a moment.  (The gate is frozen solid into the ground, or I would have let myself in). Everything is still encrusted with a layer of snow – which, admittedly, has greatly receded with all the sunshine we’ve been having lately, and is nothing compared to what many storm-ravaged regions have experienced this winter.   

Even though spring seems tantalizingly within reach, our community garden group won’t do its annual spring clean-up until the second week of May…really, the weather here in Calgary isn’t usually co-operative before then. Indeed, in years past, the first spring work bee has been postponed a couple of times due to heavy snowfall. Last year, however, one of my garden plot neighbours was harvesting baby spinach and some lettuce at the end of May (right around the time many of us were still SOWING our first seeds). While we all stood around drooling at the sight of the mouth-watering green leaves, she let us in on her not-so-secret secret: she had seeded some of her crops while there was still snow on the ground.  Of course, we started muttering with jealousy (“why didn’t I do that?”), but my neighbour has been growing this way in Calgary for years and she’s not the only one.  As many experienced gardeners know, cold weather doesn’t have to matter.  I am serious about charging forward on a few season-extending ideas this year.  We can garden on the seasonal periphery!  

I definitely want to direct-sow a bit earlier this year than I’ve done previously.  I’m not going to wait until just the right ”planting weather” comes around (whenever/whatever THAT is).   I’m planning to build a small hoop tunnel in a similar style as my plot neighbour. You can see a bit of his design in the foreground of the photo. It’s a tried-and-true system and many of you have probably set up something of the sort in your own gardens. Some plastic sheeting will give the plants a leg up early in the season, and then I can switch over to a row cover, which should deter the inevitable flea beetle problem. My neighbour actually further employed his row cover as a hail guard last year, and it worked surprisingly well – I expected the hailstones to punch through the fabric but his set-up withstood all of our wicked storms last summer.  I’m all for salad greens that are not pre-mulched! 

How do you extend the growing season in your garden?  Do you use mini hoop tunnels or cloches?  Do you have a greenhouse or a polytunnel or any other type of set-up?